I just returned from a whirlwind weekend of fun and logging miles in Big Dave’s big black truck. After having a great visit and lunch with the folks, I headed out to the wilds of central Georgia for the 25th class reunion with the fabulous women of Wesleyan...the class of 1985. We were Tri-K Pirates...and we were quite a motley little crew. In a good way, of course.
Although I was a little unsure what to expect, Facebook had helped bridge the gap of decades of neglect in the relationships I once enjoyed. When my 1978 slate blue Chevette rumbled off of the campus in 1983...I never really looked back. I wanted to be different…to start over...to look forward. I was ready for a new adventure and it turns out that this was definitely the right decision for me. But coming back...I must admit...felt like coming home.
Wesleyan College is located in Macon, Georgia, approximately 50 miles from my hometown of Thomaston. It was really the only college other than the University of Georgia that I had any true familiarity with...and my only tie to UGA was that my grandfather was a graduate and the football games on television. I really never explored the option of going to UGA, though, because I wasn’t really the university type. Not at the age of 18, anyway.
My roots with Wesleyan College were deep. My mother (who also taught there in the 1970s), maternal grandmother and great-aunt were all graduates, and my great great great grandfather was the first President of the college. His daughter, Ella Pierce Turner, was one of the founders of Alpha Delta Pi sorority – the first sorority founded anywhere – in 1851. Phi Mu was started at Wesleyan the following year. I pledged Phi Mu the Fall after I left Wesleyan at Troy State University and smiled to myself knowing that I remained affiliated with an organization that was founded by other Wesleyannes.
Although two major sororities were founded there, Wesleyan, ironically, no longer has sororities. Each class now serves that purpose, as the traditional class size ranges from 60-75 members. Four class names are rotated: Pirates (aka Tri-K Pirates) with a class color of red, Golden Hearts, Green Knights, and Purple Knights. The class you are in as a freshman is always the same as the departing seniors. In my family, my grandmother and great aunt were Golden Hearts, and my mother and I were Tri-K Pirates…sister classes. (Had Jill attended Wesleyan, she would have been a Green Knight.)
The campus is beautiful with sprawling buildings that have remained virtually unchanged as you drive through the main entrance. There have been additions over the past couple of decades, but entering those gates was like stepping into a point in time that was somewhat unchanged. The rockers were on the Loggia...and although improvements have obviously been made to the existing buildings...there was enough of what I remembered to make me feel like I was 18 again. Even the tea olives were still there. I intentionally planted tea olives all around my pool ten years ago. When they bloom, and the heavenly smell fills the backyard...it reminds me of my days at Wesleyan.
After going down the steps by the Loggia, there is a fountain...as is most appropriate. After all, Wesleyan is “a fountain of knowledge...the oldest and best.” Being the first chartered college for women is quite phenomenal and it has only been a mere 174 years since that founding. The fountain always seemed to be the central place of gathering when something was truly important during my years there. Getting in the fountain and splashing around was absolutely a rite of passage, and was something that I did on more than one occasion. Somehow, I seemed to always be wearing a white dress when I did. On Saturday, one of my classmates didn’t worry about it...she just jumped in with what she had on. Actually, it looked like tremendous fun...but I was hitching a ride, and thought it might be a deterrent to someone considering returning me to the hotel.
Walking into the freshman dorm – Persons – was familiar…yet different. My old room is still there, but attached to it is a bathroom and a whole lot more room than was there when I graced those halls. Long gone are the communal bathrooms and – quite frankly – the freshmen - as it is now a dorm for upperclassmen. The addition of air conditioning was also noted as was the presence of top notch technology. I have no idea how we survived in central Georgia without air conditioning...but somehow we did.
I also noticed that the mailboxes had been moved and a seriously welcoming porch had been added to Banks Hall plus a snack bar and room for just hanging around. When we were there...Banks was only used for practicing piano majors and for the Haunted House during Rat Week. One of my classmates found her old mailbox and discovered that she could open it using the combination from memory. She placed a note to the current box owner in it explaining that she had the box twenty five years before. I can’t even remember my box number...much less the combination.
The subject of Rat came up and it pains me to even go into how they’ve modified that particular tradition. I suppose that I wasn’t as enamored of the whole BEING a Rat as I was about being on the other side...but nobody thought of it as hazing at the time. We thought of it as a very fast education in how to bind together as a class by experiencing or making life totally unbearable for a few days. And bond we did. Now – from what I understand - Rat is more like some sad little Barneyfied version of that grand tradition...but at least nobody’s Mama is calling her attorney to whine that her precious is being treated poorly...so there’s that...
The sounds of the alma mater being sung at the Alumnae Meeting, and of the doxology during lunch reminded me that some traditions are what they are...invaluable. One of my classmates knew she’d tear up at the alma mater...and she did. You don’t tend to appreciate the little things like that when you are a student and wondering exactly when it occurred in the annals of culinary hell that boiled celery became a vegetable. It certainly was served as such in 1981. Another personal (un)favorite was brussel sprouts. Nobody but the student from Norway was especially fond of them...but as I recall...they made frequent appearances. I did learn how to eat broccoli and cauliflower so that I wouldn't starve.
Of course, the beauty of the campus was not particularly evident to those of us who were more concerned about discovering ourselves than admiring the architecture or the huge trees. The small class size and the fact that you tend to know almost everyone is not really seen as a benefit but more of a “given” until you get out there and realize that you had the opportunity to practice and hone skill sets in a laboratory that was indeed competitive, but also very forgiving. In fact, I believe that I did so well my last two years of college because I had overcome the fear of speaking to people. There was really little tolerance for being quiet…primarily because we did everything as a pack, and if you stayed in your room, you missed out on everything. And without males on campus...you had to pretty much participate in everything or die of boredom.
There is a time for everyone to grow up. Sometimes we have to do this faster because of circumstances, and sometimes we can take a slower pace. Being at Wesleyan allowed me the opportunity to be a part of something very special...but gave me enough room to begin to figure out who I was. It began an odyssey that continues today. Because I left after the first two years, I had a different college experience than I would have had I stayed. But my two years at Wesleyan prepared me for sorority life my last two years and gave me a safe place to make mistakes and then begin again in my new college home. I learned that failure isn’t fatal, and that if you really want to have a quality life, you have to apply yourself. I found that all of us have special gifts, the capacity to exceed our own expectations for our lives and that we all doubt ourselves from time to time. I was taught an appreciation for tradition, that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right, and that people will surprise you. I credit my time at Wesleyan with these impressions.
This trip I was able to incorporate my two college experiences…the heritage that I grew up knowing about...including finding my great great great grandfather’s portrait and my great great great aunt’s name on the steps of the fountain (Alpha Delta Pi donated the fountain to Wesleyan…and the names of the founders are on the steps) along with the Phi Mu history that tied me to Wesleyan my last two years of college. Even more amazing was that while we were there, seven Phi Mus from North Georgia College were on campus with their jerseys on just looking around. They ended up taking our picture hanging out of one of my classmates’ red VW Beetle...each assigned to a different camera. I remember thinking...”Those Phi Mus are my sisters...but so are the women in the car. How cool is that?”
I thought that it was fitting that although my daughter is not attending Wesleyan…she is a Phi Mu. For me, intertwining the two college experiences during the weekend was amazingly special. I even found the old Phi Mu photos, pins and ritual books in the Alumnae Building’s Candler Room under glass. In the Loggia, there is a plaque in the shape of a trefoil that was donated by Phi Mu in the 1950s. I passed it every day as a student and never paid it any attention. I was awed to see it because it had significance to me 27 years later.
Equally wonderful was that my classmates came with me on my "treasure hunt" of sorts because they knew that it was important to me. You just have to love friends like that.
My classmates all decided to attend Wesleyan for different reasons. Some came for the scholarship opportunities, after encouragement from alumnae, through active recruitment or because it somehow just seemed right to them. Others wanted a small college and the opportunity to have fewer distractions (ie. males). Others just liked the sisterhood that is and was evident and the deep roots of tradition that exist in almost everything that is done on campus. As for me, it was attending Stunt during my senior year of high school and deciding that I really wanted to walk in the family footsteps. And so I did. Leaving there also felt equally right…and the young man I left Wesleyan to move closer to has been my husband for 25 years this July.
Looking back at the weekend, I remember stating several times how odd it seemed to be walking on the campus after a 27 year hiatus. While I have sent in the pertinent alumnae news (my wedding and the births of my children) and occasionally been able to send a loyalty fund check, I really felt that I had cut the rope that moored me to the college somewhat since I graduated elsewhere. This weekend convinced me otherwise. I am a part of what is Wesleyan, and she certainly is a part of who I am. And I believe that this is exactly as it should be. I am grateful for the encouragement that I received by one of my classmates who insisted, “once a sister…always a sister.” She was right.
We were celebrating our silver reunion year. And for many of us…it has been 25 years or more since we were together. Who we were then is somewhat who we are now...but we've grown in the intervening years into pretty remarkable women. Perhaps it was just time and maturity, or the experiences that life has thrown our way in the intervening years. I liked these women as girls, but I certainly didn't appreciate them like I do now that we are women.
We came together on a small campus at a college in Macon, Georgia in 1981 as eighteen year old girls. Our paths crossed again this past weekend as 47 year old women. All of us were probably a little nervous about seeing each other again, but all of that disintegrated with the laughter, the teasing, and a rendition of “Chick House” (formerly known as “Brick House”) that was pretty dang unforgettable.
There were approximately eighteen of us there...and a member of our big sister Golden Heart class...Sue...who it was also wonderful to see. We traveled from all over the southeast to reconnect and reaffirm our friendships developed at Wesleyan all of those years ago. We all seem to be pretty happy with who we are and what it is that we are doing. That doesn’t mean that we all believe that our lives are perfect or charmed. It means that we have come to a place where we are able to relate to each other without worrying who is a bad influence, who has a bigger share of the popularity pie, or who has chosen to what with their life. To us, it hardly matters. What really mattered to me was seeing the sweet faces of the beautiful women who knew me when I was young. Women who were kind enough not to mention my shortcomings and went out of their way to be supportive.
So, to return the favor...I wanted to thank you all for making the silver reunion such a wonderful experience. Silver may run through our hair a little more than it did...and it does tend to tarnish over time. But it is valuable...and with a little bit of effort...it can be returned to its former lustre. I think we are all pretty much gleaming now...I know that my heart is light, and my spirit is at peace. And this is very, very good.
To my friend Lisa...who is my polar opposite in some ways...thank you for encouraging me to take life by the horns now and quit waiting for “someday.” You may not have realized that you were doing anything other than speaking truth, but you gave me some really great food for thought at a time when I’m really desperate for some food...period (pun intended). I hope that you know that years ago your strengths were the catalyst for making me try harder to be better...much as iron sharpens iron. You have the biggest heart and a love for life, experiences, and travel that is just amazing.
To Libbie...the perfect preppy blonde with a constant smile and a winning personality...thank you for encouraging me to come in spite of my “dropout” status. You and I now seem to have more in common now than we did back then...but you always seemed to accept people at face value and saw the best...and still do. You always had a mischievous streak that I see is still intact...and that totally rocks. (Perhaps not as much as Chaka Khan...or Trapper John...whatever.)
To Michelle...the queen of Zaire...I am not remotely surprised that you are still hysterical and that you are an educator. I think that I never fully appreciated your dry sense of humor and your keen wit then nearly as much as I do now. You do everything with gusto...from plant growing to cake baking. My only regret of this reunion is that I couldn’t partake of the goodies that you made. So help me...when I reach goal weight...I am calling you for whatever is on the rack.
To Carol...the epitome of personality and a real life retired sky goddess...I loved spending time with you and being entertained simultaneously. You have such a zest for life, and you possess a quiet confidence in who you are. Spontaneous and creative...you just jump right in...to life...to the fountain...whatever. Know that your words of encouragement will not be forgotten. I was honored that you not only thought them...but spoke them to me as well. It meant a lot.
To Bern...you are still as put together and imaginative now as you were then. You seemed to have changed very little in some ways...but I'm loving the new hair. You seem to have grown into yourself in a wonderful way. You are a natural ringleader, and you made me laugh...a LOT. Thank you for that.
To Kat...it was so good to see your sweet smiling face, and I appreciate the fact that you returned a letter from my young self to you. It is a priceless keepsake, and it was written at a time when I knew that David was “the one.” I really do wish that you had come to Troy as well, as it really was a wonderful place. I’ll never forget the aluminum pyramid we built back when I could wear a bikini without mortification. Thank you for coming. It was wonderful to see you.
To Rhonda...you are so pulled together and have such a sense of calm about you that it is just comfortable to be in your presence. It was fun seeing you and remembered that I spent my 20th birthday that Spring Break we went home with you. My daughter is now 20! You have a quiet sense of fun, but seem to take in everything that is going on around you...so that you can say something profound at just the right moment. I love that.
To Julie...it was wonderful to see that your sweetness and love for people has not changed a bit. You are still the beautiful girl now that you were then...inside and out. You are so interested in other people and so encouraging. Thank you for describing that amazing dessert that Michelle made so that I would not break my commitment to get this weight off. I’d really love to borrow your metabolism for a decade or two.
To Linda...you are the heart of any group of which you are a part. You also do the things that need to be done...like make pictures so that we could all take home evidence of the fun we shared and also encourage us to compile everything into a format that you’ll use to create something amazing. I also love that you are such a good sport. And, of course...the world's most unlikely "cougar".
Hazel...your art is amazing. So is your commitment to the project for preemies. I love that you saw something that you wanted to learn how to do...and you just mastered it. Not everyone has that kind of courage or that kind of talent. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to purchase some for my home, and I’ll be following that website for others down the road.
Lynne...you still are “Bubbles” to me. Your personality is still well...bubbly...and you still love grabbing life by the tail. Your nap during the Alumnae Meeting totally cracked me up. Mothers of twins have to sleep when there is an opportunity, yes? Polka dots become you, and I’ll just think of them from now on as little “bubbles” instead of dots.
Charlotte...it was fun visiting with you and seeing that pretty red hair shining in the sun. That whole “non-graying” thing has me totally jealous, by the way.
Amy...you obviously have a portrait somewhere aging for you because it certainly isn’t showing. It was very fun to see you again.
To the Annas…I didn’t get much time with you...but it was so nice to see you again.
Thank you for the fun, ladies...and I hope to see you before our 50th. I will be at the 30th, Lord willing. If any of you come through Montgomery, Alabama...the thrilling metropolis that it is (not)...please look me up. I promise to return the favor if I get to your neck of the woods.